It’s been a three-year process – the fourth and most recent iteration of Nashville sports and tourism brass trying to put together the proper proposal in order to return IndyCar to the city. But as Matt Crews, the CEO of the Music City Grand Prix, tells it, Roger Penske needed all of 10 minutes in the actual big-picture presentation three weeks ago before he’d made up his mind.
“We toured Nashville. Mr. Penske wanted to see the track, the city. We had meetings planned over at Nissan Stadium, and we’d planned about two hours to go through the plan, the site, the budget,” Crews said. “And about 10 minutes into that meeting, Mr. Penske pushed back from that meeting and said he’d seen enough. It was time to go racing.
“Mark Miles came in pretty quick and said, ‘When he says it’s time to go racing, it’s time we go racing.’”
And with that, the 2021 Music City Grand Prix, to be held Aug. 6-8 next year as IndyCar’s sixth street course race on the yet-to-be-released schedule, reached the proverbial finish line. The race is privately funded and has a three-year contract with IndyCar.
It’s been attempted three times previously, ever since IndyCar left Nashville Superspeedway, which sits 30 miles southeast of downtown, where it ran annually from 2001-08. But none came close to the ingenuity of this promotion group’s plan.
“None of the other three felt right,” Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of Nashville’s Convention and Visitors Corporation, said in Wednesday’s new conference announcing the race. “There was always something. We wanted it. We tried, but it never worked out. I would say now that it didn’t work out for the right reasons.
“Now we’re here for all the right reasons.”
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The 2.17-mile street course with 11 turns traverses the large parking lot just east of the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium, hugging the east corner of the stadium. That gives promoters an opportunity to sell VIP access in a couple club suites in the stadium that have glass walls facing outward. The inside of the parking lot area will serve as the series’ paddock for the weekend.
From there, drivers will tear down and back over the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River, making the Music City Grand Prix one of the few major motorsports events to drive over a large body of water.
“Every driver that I’ve spoke to that’s heard about Nashville, they want to come to this event and succeed,” said Nashville resident and defending IndyCar series champion Josef Newgarden at Wednesday’s news conference. “It’s going to be probably the second-most pressure-filled event to get right (after the Indianapolis 500). I think people in Nashville will see something they’ve never seen before.”
The course sits less than a half-mile from the start of Nashville’s famous Broadway crawl. It houses much of the city’s bar, restaurant and live music nightlife that has, in the last decade, made it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.
The track layout, designed by Tony Cotman, gives the promoters a chance to run near those that hope to be merely casually involved watching racing that weekend, without forcing a shutdown of any of the city’s main thoroughfares for tourism.
The event’s website says officials expect to draw 100,000 fans over the three days. The city hosted 200,000 for the 2017 Stanley Cup and 600,000 for last year’s revolutionary open-air NFL Draft, helping Nashville earn the honor of the Best Sports City in the U.S. from the Sports Business Journal.
Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles likened the relationship between city and event to Indianapolis, which consistently plays host to some of the biggest events in sports, business and entertainment. The race will also be the largest event in town that weekend. There’s no battling for headlines in a way that the series would have to in New York City, Boston, Miami or Chicago. And unlike the Long Beach Grand Prix and the event at Circuit of the Americas near Austin, the race will truly be at the heart of the action for a city with a population near 1 million.
Fans at the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage during the 2018 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. (Photo: Hunter Berry/CMA)
Lead-up events to the race will include live music performances, chef-curated food experiences and entertainment that centers on speed, according to the news release.
“Like Indy, (Nashville) is big enough to really matter where you can pull your resources together, but it’s small enough to get a consensus and create awareness and excitement and bring people together to pull off something outstanding,” Miles said. “They showed us they could do that hosting the (2019) NFL Draft that they really reinvented and made an outstanding, fun public entertainment success.
“You just have a sense that the civic leaders are great at working together and know how to throw a heck of a party, and that’s key.”
Added Crews: “From a fan point of view, we’ve always kind of said, jokingly, that if half the people leave here and never see a car, have a great time, we’ve done our job.”
Miles said that the partnership with the Titans was near-pertinent to making the return of IndyCar to Nashville and applauded their efforts in getting Wednesday’s announcement to the finish line.
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“I don’t think we could have done this being right downtown, smack-dab in the middle of the entertainment district, but it’s just a couple blocks’ walk from there, and the city is built to have people go from all the bars and nightlife to where the track will be,” Miles said. “You have the benefit of proximity without the logistical disruptions, and that is key.”
Along with those Nissan Stadium club seating options, the event promoters will offer two ticketing initiatives. The first, called Club RPM, will give ticket-goers access to a “concierge-style service for entertainment reservations, valet parking and entry into the Club RPM lounge at the Bridge Building.”
Fans can also sign up to be a Music City Grand Prix Founder to get reserved seating and priority purchasing for parking, hotels and more. More information on scheduling for the event, artists and other aspects to the weekend will be announced at a later date and can be found at www.musiccitygp.com .
The Music City Grand Prix becomes the newest race addition in a series of overhauls IndyCar has had made since 2017, when they added Gateway, followed by Portland in 2018, Laguna Seca and Circuit of the Americas in 2019 and the planned Richmond race in 2020 that wasn’t held due to the coronavirus pandemic. Several officials touted hopes that it will become IndyCar’s sixth regular street course race, joining St. Pete, Long Beach, the Detroit doubleheader and Toronto – all of which have been on the schedule since at least 2012.
The series, though, has a mixed history with street course races. Boston was never held and races in Baltimore and Houston did not last.
“I was involved in (Baltimore),” he said. “We’d love to be in Baltimore. We were kind of racing around the environment of both a Major League Baseball and NFL stadium. We knew in the date that we had, we wouldn’t have consistency (with an event date).
“So to work with the Titans, the folks in Nashville to get a date that does not complicate the NFL schedule or our schedule, I think was one of the reasons that this took years to put together. But this is going to be on your calendars for many, many years. I hope generations to come.”
Added Crews: “I love my city, and in 326 days, we get to show my city off to the world. That’s really important to us as an organization. Working with IndyCar’s 27 broadcast partners in 160 countries, this becomes the first opportunity for us to really prove on a worldwide scale what we all know in Nashville, what the city has become. I never thought we would get to that day.”
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.